Islamic Religious Council of Singapore
3 February 2023 / 12 Rejab 1444H
The Role of Context in Formulating Islamic Law
My beloved fellow Muslims,
Let us strengthen our taqwa to Allah (s.w.t.) by obeying all His commands and avoiding all His prohibitions. May Allah (s.w.t.) guide us towards the right path in all matters of our religion. Amin.
Brothers and sisters,
Let us take this opportunity to do some reflections. My brothers and sisters, before embarking upon certain tasks, we will certainly take into account our needs and circumstances at that given moment. For example, if we are planning to travel to a foreign country, we will make adequate preparations for the trip. These may include preparing the appropriate type and amount of clothing, medication, money, and so on. The longer the journey, the more extensive the preparations will have to be. When planning our trip, we will also have to keep in mind the weather and the conditions of the country we are about to visit.
These examples reflect the importance of context in our lives. This means it is important for us to take into account the various conditions and circumstances, as well as individual and societal needs.
This is where we need to also understand the important role of context in our religious affairs. If we were to ponder upon various hadiths, we can see how the Prophet (s.a.w.) used to give advice to the companions according to their individual needs and circumstances.
For example, when Prophet (s.a.w.) was asked about the best act of worship in Islam, he provided different answers to different companions. In one instance, he said that the best act of worship in Islam is belief in Allah (s.w.t.), while in another incident, he advised the companion to always remember Allah (s.w.t). Likewise, in another instance, the Prophet (s.a.w.) said that the best act of worship in Islam is to pray on time.
The different answers by Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) were not given by mistake. Rather, Imam Syatibi said that the difference in the response was because our Prophet (s.a.w.) customised his answers according to the unique situations of each questioner at that time and moment.
Brothers and sisters,
Such is the beauty of Islam. Contrary to popular belief, it is not made up of only religious rulings that disregard one’s individual or societal needs and circumstances. Nevertheless, we must be very mindful of the fact that our religion cannot be loosely interpreted and twisted in accordance to all our personal wishes and desires. Rather, our religion provides us with the right form of balance.
What is legally obligatory, such as the Pillars of Islam, will not change until the end of time. However, there are also laws that take into account the culture and customs of the society, or they are based on the scholarly ijtihad, or even consensus. In such situations, certain laws can change according to the different outcomes of scholarly ijtihad and society’s changing needs.
My fellow Muslims,
It is important that we carefully understand this issue, because it is not enough to formulate fatwas (religious edicts) by simply taking excerpts from the holy Qur’an, or from the prophetic hadiths alone. It is not enough to quote opinions from classical books or from various online platforms.
This is because the fatwa is a religious opinion issued based on the issues that are currently faced by the society. These fatwas are meant to provide solutions for the challenges that members of the society are facing. Therefore, fatwas that are suitable for neighbouring countries, for example, may not be suitable to be applied in Singapore.
We must understand that the difference in fatwas is because Islam acknowledges the changing situations of every individual as well as the larger society. Every fatwaissued needs to consider the context and reality of the situation, as well as the ability to acknowledge and accommodate the different circumstances, while keeping in mind its impact and outcome.
Let us reflect upon what Allah (s.w.t.) said, in surah At-Taghabun verse 16:
Which means: “So be mindful of Allah to the best of your ability, hear and obey, and spend from your wealth in the way of charity - that will be the best for you. And whoever guards against and is saved from the selfishness of their own souls, it is they who are truly successful.”
Allah (s.w.t.) commands His servants to develop taqwa towards Him; which requires us to fulfill the commands of Allah (s.w.t.) and to stay away from all His prohibitions. But Allah (s.w.t.) followed the command with the phrase 'مَا ٱسْتَطَعْتُمْ' which means "that which you are able to". This indicates that there are situations where our religion takes into account the limitations and abilities of every individual.
Brothers and sisters,
Understanding context is not only limited to understanding the needs of individuals and society. However, it also requires us to understand the religious texts, i.e., the Qur'an as well as the hadith of the Prophet (s.a.w.). In trying to understand the meanings behind the Qur’anic verse or prophetic hadith, we are required to learn about the background and context they were revealed in. Likewise, we must also be aware of other verses or hadiths that are related to that text.
By understanding the context and background, we can develop a more accurate understanding of the meanings behind these religious texts. If we fail to understand the background of a certain verse or hadith, then it is feared that we use it to justify the wrong actions, or worse, that which directly contradict its actual teachings. This is because religious texts such as the Quran and hadith are open to various interpretations and understandings, provided that the interpretations are based on true knowledge.
May Allah help us become Muslims who uphold the true Islamic teachings. May all of us become those who are blessed with the true understanding of this religion. Amin Ya Rabbal 'Alamin.
أَقُوْلُ قَوْلِي هَذَا وَ أَسْتَغْفِرُ اللهَ العَظِيْمَ لِي وَ لَكُمْ، فَاسْتَغْفِرُوهُ إِنَّهُ هُوَ الغَفُوْرُ الرَّحِيْم
الحَمْدُ للهِ حَمْدًا كَثِيرًا كَمَا أَمَرَ، وَأَشْهَدُ أَن لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا اللهُ وَحْدَهُ لَا شَرِيكَ لَهُ، وَأَشْهَدُ أَنَّ سَيِّدَنَا مُحَمَّدًا عَبْدُهُ وَرَسُولُهُ. اللَّهُمَّ صَلِّ وَسَلِّمْ عَلَى سَيِّدِنَا مُحَمَّدٍ وَعَلَى آلِهِ وَأَصْحَابِهِ أَجْمَعِينَ. أَمَّا بَعْدُ، فَيَا عِبَادَ الله، اِتَّقُوا اللهَ تَعَالَى فِيمَا أَمَرَ، وَانتَهُوا عَمَّا نَهَاكُم عَنْهُ وَزَجَرَ.
أَلَا صَلُّوا وَسَلِّمُوا عَلَى النَّبِيِّ الْمُصْطَفَى، فَقَدْ أَمَرَنَا اللهُ بِذَلِكَ حَيْثُ قَال فِي كِتَابِهِ العَزِيزِ: إِنَّ اللهَ وَمَلَائِكَتَهُ يُصَلُّونَ عَلَى النَّبِيِّ يَـا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا صَلُّوا عَلَيهِ وَسَلِّمُوا تَسلِيمًا. اللَّهُمَّ صَلِّ وَسَلِّمْ وَ بَارِكْ عَلَى سَيِّدِنَا مُحَمَّدٍ وَعَلَى آلِ سَيِّدِنَا مُحَمَّدٍ.
وَارْضَ اللَّهُمَّ عَنِ الخُلَفَاءِ الرَّاشِدِينَ المَهْدِيِّينَ أَبِي بَكْرٍ وَعُمَرَ وَعُثْمَانَ وَعَلِيِّ، وَعَن بَقِيَّةِ الصَّحَابَةِ وَالقَرَابَةِ وَالتَّابِعِينَ، وَتَابِعِي التَّابِعِينَ، وَعَنَّا مَعَهُم وَفِيهِم بِرَحْمَتِكَ يَا أَرْحَمَ الرَّاحِمِينَ.
اللَّهُمَّ اغْفِرْ لِلمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالمُؤْمِنَاتِ، وَالمُسْلِمِينَ وَالمُسْلِمَاتِ، الأَحْيَاءِ مِنهُم وَالأَمْوَاتِ. اللَّهُمَّ ادْفَعْ عَنَّا البَلَاءَ وَالوَبَاءَ وَالزَّلَازِلَ وَالمِحَنَ، مَا ظَهَرَ مِنْهَا وَمَا بَطَنَ، عَن بَلَدِنَا خَاصَّةً، وَسَائِرِ البُلْدَانِ عَامَّةً، يَارَبَّ العَالَمِينَ. رَبَّنَا آتِنَا فِي الدُّنيَا حَسَنَةً، وَفِي الآخِرَةِ حَسَنَةً، وَقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّارِ.
عِبَادَ اللهِ، إِنَّ اللهَ يَأْمُرُ بِالعَدْلِ وَالإِحْسَانِ وَإِيتَاءِ ذِي القُرْبَى، وَيَنْهَى عَنِ الفَحْشَاءِ وَالمُنكَرِ وَالبَغْيِ، يَعِظُكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَذَكَّرُونَ، فَاذكُرُوا اللهَ العَظِيمَ يَذْكُركُمْ، وَاشْكُرُوهُ عَلَى نِعَمِهِ يَزِدكُمْ، وَاسْأَلُوهُ مِن فَضلِهِ يُعطِكُم، وَلَذِكرُ اللهِ أَكبَرُ، وَاللهُ يَعلَمُ مَا تَصنَعُونَ.